I had this question posed to me via Twitter DM (fancy, right?):
Is it just me or is Benn hitting double digit goals on dec 21st a little disappointing?
My first thought was yeah - it's problematic. Benn now has ten goals in 35 games. He's been credited with 20 assists, but no one is really looking to Benn as a strict playmaker. Benn has one of the most accurate deadly shots in the league and has shown the ability to take over games.
In short, yes his ten goals are disappointing. The interesting thing to consider is why his production has dropped.
I went back over the last four years (including this season) and pulled his even strength and power play scoring rates from behindthenet.ca to see what I could find.
At even strength Benn is producing points at virtually the same rate he produced in both 2014 and 2012. The way he is doing it is different, but the rate at which he is registering points is the same. This year he is picking up more primary assists and scoring less goals at even strength than in previous years.
His 5v4 power play scoring is down quite a bit though.
Benn is down by almost 1.5 points/60 minutes of 5v4 time. His primary assists have been taking a plunge over the past four seasons. Somehow this season he hasn't even been credited with a secondary assist in a 5v4 situation. The "Supernova" power play hasn't been so super for 'ol Jamie.
It's worth briefly noting that power play time makes up about 1/6th of his total time on ice. The drop in power play production does explain some of the drop in his overall production, but given how small of a sample size we're talking here a good week could put Benn back on track.
The power play is generally loaded up with Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza on the ice with him. At even strength Benn primarily plays with Seguin, but he has spent a good deal of time with Spezza out there too. Is Benn simply deferring to his linemates thus causing his goal production to drop?
We won't be able to tell definitively regardless of how we tackle the problem, but one area we can look at is shot generation. Last season Seguin and Benn combined to take 573 shots in all situations. Seguin took 51% of those while Benn took 49%. They combined to score 71 goals. Seguin scored 52% of the total while Benn scored 48%. They pretty much split opportunities right down the middle.
This year is quite a bit different. The duo is on pace to take 588 shots, an increase of 15. Benn is taking only 43% of the shots to Seguin's 57%. They're on pace to score 82 goals between them, but Benn has only netted 28% of those. Seguin is shooting an otherworldly 17.4% to Benn's 9% which accounts for a good bit of that differential.
The main thrust of all of this is that there does appear to be some evidence here of Benn deferring more to Seguin. Benn's assist rate is up and his shot totals are down while Seguin is throwing darts on a nightly basis. They're being used essentially the way they were being used last year so usage isn't to "blame" for the change. Benn just seems to be willingly deferring to Seguin.
This has been seen on the ice this year too. Benn hasn't taken over games the way he has in the past. He hasn't been that dominant game-changing force we've come to expect, but given how productive the Seguin and Benn duo has been is it an issue? Could Seguin continue to produce at this high level without Benn, or is his increase in production partially because of Benn (and Spezza) being on the ice?
The Stars are playing well now so there is no reason to tinker too much, but when they hit another rough patch it might be worth considering breaking them up to see what happens to Benn and Seguin's production. If the Stars could maintain Seguin's scoring AND get 2014 Benn production they would have an enviable offense. As is though it's still pretty good.
In response to the original question: yes, it's a bit troubling to see his goal totals down so far. On a team-level there is some evidence to suggest he is deferring more to Seguin which has impacted his counting numbers while at the same time seeing the total production from the duo increase. It would be nice to see Benn enforce his will more, and maybe he will as the season advances, but if it ain't broke don't fix it.